Friday, October 11, 2013

Chicago Missed Out: Junip in New York

My first day in New York in over seven years was a disorienting one. Navigating solo through the criss-crossing avenues of the Lower East Side, attempting to learn the language of the MTA, and draining my phone's battery with nonstop googlemaps check-ups took up most of my day. Unlike the grid of Chicago, and the childlike ease of the CTA, New York's layout is complex. So what could I do to make myself feel at home in this chaotic, concrete labyrinth? Jose Gonzalez, baby.

Junip's self-titled 2013 album is quietly one of the year's best. Gonzalez's soothing voice is complemented by a band that could swing between backing up Norah Jones or Thom Yorke, holding the steadiest rhythm you've ever heard. But the show-stealer is Gonzalez. Seeing him sling an acoustic guitar over his shoulder is an exciting sight. Because we know what he's capable of doing with that machine. I wouldn't be surprised if a few fascists keeled over by the end of the show last night.

This was actually my first time at a concert in New York, and I think the only surprising/unsurprising thing for me was how diverse the crowd appeared to be. Old men in suits, potential b-boys, and white college kids made up just a small portion of the demographics in the sold-out Le Poisson Rouge. I wondered for a moment, "what are you people doing here?" Until Gonzalez brought me back to reality with "Walking Lightly." The song is so gorgeously simple, repeating the verse "We're all walking lightly / we're all walking lightly / let this moment last / could be gone so fast / keep walking lightly." Amidst all the chaos, the diversity, and the confusion, this song rings a universally recognizable and reassuring bell. We're here, and it doesn't matter why or what or how. We're here. All of us.

Junip, and Jose Gonzalez especially, has a blatantly dark edge. His music is about life and death, dread and fear. Yet in all of it, Gonzalez's calm delivery settles any existential anxieties and quells all despair. He accomplishes this seemingly without effort, but it's the result of masterful musicianship and dutiful artistry. Gonzalez's solo records highlight his virtuosic guitar playing abilities, and Junip reveals what he can do as songwriter and composer. As a writer and player, Jose Gonzalez's sensibility for balance makes him a rare talent in music today.

A highlight of the evening came at the encore, when the full band played one of his songs from In Our Nature. "Down the Line" is his anthem. Yes, we know what he did with The Knife's "Heartbeats," and he may be better remembered for Junip in the long run, but that outro of "don't let the darkness eat you up" is comparable to hearing The Beach Boys singing about "going surfing." "Down the Line" is quintessential Jose Gonzalez--ominously invigorating.

Leaving home and pursuing change can be frightening, but we never really do it alone. As I was leaving Le Poisson Rouge last night, Ben Stiller held the door for me as he shook his head back and forth whispering, "amazing... amazing." At first I thought about giving him the "hey you're Ben Stiller" nod, but then, realizing how right he was, gave him the "yeah, it was amazing" nod. He nodded back.